Today, interning seems to be a necessity for future job seekers. It’s a way for companies and students alike to test-drive potential career fits. Companies are interested in attracting the best talent among soon-to-be college graduates, while students seek a real-world taste of the career path for which they have spent years preparing. It’s common to see internship opportunities for students in areas of study such as engineering, marketing, and information technology, for example. How can we develop management accounting’s next generation in the same way by using this effective tool?
Every summer, engineering students join my company in the construction industry as interns with the goal of translating classroom education into real-world application and experience. Several years ago, we decided to develop other essential areas of our company in the same way. We instituted a program for accounting students to join our company for a unique, hands-on summer experience of learning management accounting in the business world. I’ll share a few of the things both interns and the company have learned about the benefits of this great experience.
Lead the internship program from the start by developing the program’s goals and objectives for both the company and the student, and consistently remind yourself and your staff of these objectives. An obvious objective of the company is to hire interns to help complete tasks. Likewise, experience gained by performing accounting-related tasks is an objective of the students. Ensure that the tasks assigned are meaningful and connected to the management accounting topics they are studying. Such tasks include generating and posting journal entries, completing general ledger account reconciliations, and preparing periodic performance analysis with refreshed data.
Challenge your interns with complex tasks, and, as a leader, remember to support them every step of the way. Avoid hiring interns as a way to catch up or accomplish tasks that staff members avoid doing, such as filing, copying, or answering phones. Using internships in this way may discredit your program and hinder your ability to attract good candidates in the future.
THE INTERVIEW AND CANDIDATE SELECTION
Today’s college students are extremely motivated not only to learn but to teach others the skills they’ve developed. Find candidates easily by contacting local universities. Many have job boards where you can post the opportunity. I’ve also contacted the university’s accounting club and arranged a time to talk to the group about IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), management accounting careers, and my company’s internship opportunities. Conduct the candidate selection and interview processes in the same way you would when hiring permanent, full-time employees. This helps you identify the best candidates and also provides great interviewing practice for students.
Avoid giving preference to relatives or friends of coworkers simply because of that relationship. It’s easy to abandon established requirements and objectives to fit a preferential candidate because of a relationship. Doing this compromises the effectiveness of the internship program. Set specific qualifications and stick to them.
Sorting through résumés and selecting the best candidates may be difficult because little might distinguish one candidate from another. Many candidates will have completed the same coursework and be in the same year in their studies. Few candidates, if any, will have any prior accounting work experience. Focus on other leadership attributes such as grade-point average, involvement in leadership roles with campus organizations, and community service.
Some companies may be reluctant to implement an internship program for careers that may not provide long-term value to them. Companies in the construction industry often see engineering internships as a way to attract top-notch talent into entry-level operational needs when interns graduate. The same outlook holds true for public accounting firms that devote resources to internship programs at their firms.
Unless a company in the industry anticipates growth or experiences turnover in their accounting department, permanent full-time positions typically aren’t waiting for management accounting interns. A management accounting internship program may not benefit the company in the same way that other professional internships would. Nonetheless, companies can reap many benefits from management accounting internships. Some may not be universal but rather are unique to each company in its own right. Take time to envision the benefits to your company with an open mind and unbridled valuation. For example, consider the generational aspects of our workforce today. One of the benefits my company has found is the dynamic learning environment created with increased diversity. Employees that have been with the company in some cases for 30-plus years enjoy learning new technology and methods from interns. At the same time, interns learn from seasoned employees the purpose behind certain processes.
Outside the accounting department, companies benefit from multidisciplinary internships by encouraging interns to work together. It might be difficult for a controller to explain the necessity behind completing a job cost forecast for use in percentage-of-completion accounting to an engineering intern. But management accounting interns often find the best terminology and tactic to get the point across to their engineering intern colleagues. Employees benefit from a vibrant energy felt throughout the company that promotes continuous learning and development for all.
As you think about leading the way for management accounting’s next generation, examine the benefits an internship can provide to accomplish that goal.
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/career-resources/leadership-academy.